Weekend Goodies

I hope everyone had a great weekend! Here are a handful of both articles and podcasts that hit the internet over the last week or so. Enjoy!


Thoughts on Upper-Crossed Syndrome In Ice Hockey

In-Season Off-Ice Conditioning

Understanding and Training Hip Flexion by Michael Boyle

Anecdotes and Ideas on Isometric Training for Athletic Speed and Power by Joel Smith

The Fragile Generation by Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt


Power Athlete Radio with Cal Dietz

Strength Coach Podcast #219 w. Stu McGill

Strength Coach Podcast #219.5

Just Fly Performance with Robbie Bourke

Physical Preparation Podcast with Zac Cupples

Thoughts on Upper-Crossed Syndrome in Ice Hockey

Dr. Janda’s Upper-Crossed Syndrome, classified as weak/inhibited deep neck flexors, lower traps and serratus along with tight/facilitated pectorals, upper traps and levator scapulae, is commonly seen in hockey populations. As a result of this you’ll find manyathletes have malpositioned cervical spine/thorax leading to ‘neck breathing’ and not allowing the diaphragm to work effectively, which leads to poor thoracic mobility and a compromised function of the scapula.

Upper Crossed Syndome

What does this mean for the hockey athlete?

Because of the hunched over position that hockey players find themselves in through the demands of the game, it is safe to say that many hockey players will present some, if not all of the signs of Janda’s Upper-Crossed Syndome.

And because of that, hockey players tend to have some cranky shoulders that can lead to both impingement and potential injuries to the shoulder while absorbing force on the ice.

What do we do to counteract these issues;

  • Daily Diaphragmatic Breathing: a lot can be gained by performing some simple diaphragmatic breathing on a daily basis.
  • Daily Thoracic Spine Mobility
  • Upper Body Pressing: as the season progresses we will perform less and less bench press with a straight bar and add in other variations that are more shoulder friendly like landmine presses, push ups, and 1DB bench press. Adding movements that are little more shoulder friendly can go a long way in keeping shoulders happy as the demands of a long hockey season take its toll on the athletes body.
  • Upper Body Pulling: our strength program would be considered imbalanced in the sense that we always perform more sets/reps of upper body pulling (chin ups, rows, etc.) then we do pushing (bench, overhead press, etc.) to try to create more balance across the upper body. Generally speaking I would say that having a balanced program is ideal, but in this situation we have found creating a little bit of an unbalanced program has worked well in keeping our athletes shoulders healthy.

In-Season Off-Ice Conditioning

“If you get hurt in the training process, your training process is terrible.” – Mike Boyle

Dilemma: coach wants to give the team the day off from skating but still wants to perform a somewhat intense conditioning session.

Solution: Assault Bikes

The first question most people would ask is ‘Why biking and not running or using the slideboard?’ This is a reasonable and fair question, and the answer lies in having a solid understanding of the sport you are dealing with. You have to have a ‘why’ for what you are doing.

Anyone working with the ice hockey population is probably well aware of the effects that playing hockey has on an athletes body. Hockey players live in a flexed hip position, placing excessive both concentric and isometric stress on the hips and quads while skating. Then they sit on the bench between shifts in a flexed hip position. Then they sit in the locker room between periods in a flexed hip position. The same goes for the time they spend sitting in class, driving a car, and watching television. Many skate year-round. Hockey players literally live in a flexed hip position.

Taylor Hall

Because of this, running may be an issue and cause hip flexor strains if performed in-season. Though I am a huge advocate of performing exercises year-round that ask a hockey athlete to get into full hip extension (sled marching, 1-leg DL, slideboard leg curl, bridging variations), asking a hockey player to sprint and aggressively perform hip extension is probably a disaster waiting to happen. Don’t be shocked if you find yourself with a handful of hip flexor strains following the sprint based conditioning session.

***As a side note, we do run in the off-season, starting with tempo runs to build an aerobic conditioning base, work on sprint mechanics, and slowly get them into hip extension in a less-aggressive way then sprinting. We eventually and slowly work our way into sprinting when some of the postural issues that result from a long hockey season have been ironed out a little. Again, there is a ‘why’ to everything we are doing – nothing is left for chance, there is a logical, well thought-out process to everything we do***

Remember, you as a coach need to adapt the strength & conditioning program to the athlete/sport – the athlete/sport should not be trying to adapt to your strength & conditioning program.

I had to ask myself what is the easiest and safest effective way we can accomplish what it is that we want to accomplish? Is there a way to do this and make sure no one gets hurt? The answer is a clear yes, utilizing the Assault bike.

The Assault Bike allows the hockey athlete to essentially ‘save’ their hip flexors – on a bike you just push down while spinning, a position where the your hip flexors don’t have to do any substantial work. The result is a solid conditioning session without any glaring injury concerns.

As far as the slideboard goes the answer is simple; they skate and perform that same movement pattern over and over and over while on the ice in practice and during game – that bucket is so full that it’s overflowing! Don’t continue to fill full buckets, fill the empty bucket and get the athletes doing something different (as long as it’s safe like biking in this case) to try to create balance. Over-performing the same movement pattern time and time again is a great way for someone to get injured via an overuse injury.

The moral of the story is that you have a ‘Why’ for both everything you do as well as everything that you don’t do. The primary goal of a training program is to keep players in the game with improved performance coming second. Could we have jumped on the ice and conditioned, ran, or done slideboard work and hypothetically elicited a better conditioning effect? Maybe, maybe not. But a healthy player is always better then an unhealthy player, every single time. The bike allowed us to condition hard and live to fight another day.

Random Thoughts: November Edition

It’s a new month which means another brain dump of random thoughts that have been going through my head with a couple quotes tossed in for good measure. Enjoy.

  1. A robust system under stress remains strong. – Dave Tenney
  2. Great coaches have the same energy at 5pm that they do at 9am. Take care of yourself. Eat right. Sleep. Get out of the weight room when you have free time. It isn’t fair to those athletes later in the day if you are tired and just looking to get through their session.
  3. Criticize a mistake, not an athlete.
  4. Our job as strength and conditioning/sport performance coaches is to make athletes better general movers and more resilient/durable through proper strength training, and then hand them off to the sport coaches.
  5. The best strength coaches live in the gray area when it comes to disciplines like PRI, RPR and many others. They steal a little bit from various different disciplines and apply them to their program in a way that works for their situation. The best also don’t get caught going way too deep into the rabbit hole.
  6. Look for the teams and coaches that are the most successful. Figure out what the commonality between these successful teams and coaches are. Then apply it to your situation.
  7. As coaches we have the tendency to think we need to speak all the time to fill the gaps. In my opionon this is far from the truth. The coaches that are able to listen to their athletes are the coaches that will really do well in the long run. Listen 80% of the time and speak 20% of the time.
  8. Great sprinters have great isometric strength. – Chris Korfist
  9. 99% of the time when an athlete is struggling with a movement more weight is not going to solve the problem.
  10. Most all strength coaches would agree that there is a need to individualizing programs for athletes. But simply giving athletes different weights for the same exercise isn’t individualizing things.

15 “Extreme Ownership” Quotes from Jocko Willink

A few weeks ago I decided to pick up and read a book that I had previously read, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. Jocko is a retired United States Navy SEAL, a SEAL that was awarded both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his efforts and leadership in the Iraqi War, who wrote the book to help teach people how to become the strongest leader they possible can become.

As anyone that has ever read the book would tell you, its is without a doubt one of the best books any leader in any organization can read that is chalked full of amazing content. Here are 15 (there could have been 50) noteworthy quotes from Jocko;

  1. The book derives it’s title from the underlying principle – the mind-set – that provides the foundation for all the rest: Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.
  2. Good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to get it done.
  3. The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.
  4. If you allow the status quo to persist, you can’t expect to improve performance, and you can’t expect to win.
  5. When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues.
  6. Extreme Ownership: There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
  7. The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. When mentored and coached properly, the junior leader can eventually replace the senior leader, allowing the senior leader to move on to the next level of leadership.
  8. Ego clouds and disrupts everything.
  9. A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow. They must be aggressive, but not overbearing. A leader must be calm, but not robotic. They must be confident, but never cocky. A leader must be brave, but not foolhardy. They must have competitive spirit, but be a gracious loser.
  10. When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable – if there are no consequences – that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.
  11. There can be no leadership when there is no team.
  12. I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong. That is what a leader does – even if it means getting fired. If anyone was to be blamed and fired for what happened, let it be me.
  13. Leading people is the most challenging and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors.
  14. To implement real change, to drive people to accomplish something truly complex or difficult or dangerous – you can’t make people do these things. You have to lead them.
  15. If the frontline troops are unclear about the plan and yet are too intimidated to ask questions, the team’s ability to effectively execute the plan radically decreases.

Rule #1: Do No Harm

“If it looks like shit, then it is probably shit!”

I love that Mike Boyle quote referring to training and technique. As professionals in the fitness industry, whether you are a personal trainer or a strength and conditioning coach, we have a RESPONSIBILITY to ensure the safety of our athletes/clients.

Do No Harm is Rule #1 is and always will be and probably the most important thing you can ensure as a coach. Ensuring proper technique, well thought out progressions, and appropriate exercise selection for their fitness level and health will allow the athlete/client to get the most out of their training. Improving athletic performance comes second.

No one should ever get hurt in the weight room!

Thoughts on Chin Ups

Over the last year or so one thing that has become increasingly apparent to me is that people don’t typically end up getting better when using bands for chin ups. It seems to me that the same athlete that is using a band to assist them with chin ups as a freshman is still using a band to assist them doing a chin up when they are seniors.

My question is; are the bands actually getting people stronger? I think my answer is no.

The solution? This year we have decided to have people perform eccentric reps instead. For example, if the training session calls for 3 sets of 5 chin ups, the athlete will do as many chin ups as they can and then perform eccentric reps to finish out the prescribed reps. Managed to get 3 chin ups – then you perform 3 eccentric reps to get a total of 5 reps.

Will this work? I don’t know, but I do think I know that bands aren’t helping people get better at chin ups and it can’t hurt to try and see what type of effect the change has on developing the ability to actually perform more chin ups.

Sample In-Season Program for Ice Hockey

I am a firm believer that as a field we get better when coaches are transparent. Attached at the bottom of this post is an exact template of what is going to be implemented with women’s hockey during this current in-season period, the next three weeks.

This is also almost identical as to what I have been implementing with volleyball during their in-season period as well. The movement patterns stay the same, the exercises that will be implemented will be more specific to the athlete/sport. For example, with volleyball our vertical pressing on day one will either be a variation on the Landmine Press or a variation of a Bottoms Up KB OH Press, while with women’s hockey will typically perform some type of incline pressing work, in this case alternating DB incline press. Our horizontal pressing with volleyball will typically be a push up where it is a bench press with women’s hockey. Movement patterns stay the same, exercises change.

No secrets here, always an open book. Help other coaches. Advance the field. Leave it better then you found it.

Womens Hockey InSeason P2

Health > Performance

“While an athlete’s reaching or exceeding individual performance aims and helping the team achieve its goals is fantastic in one sense, it’s completely undermined if this athlete is ruin in the process.” – Fergus Connolly

In the last few weeks I have slowly been making my way through Fergus Connolly’s new book Game Changer, which has been an outstanding read. One topic that really struck a nerve with me was the topic of health when it comes to student athletes. As Fergus states and something that I completely agree with is that health has to come before performance.

In my opinion, if there is one common denominator to success in sports it is that athlete health. Without a doubt, health is the single most important factor to success not only for the team but for individual athletes – it is hard to win important games when a key player or key players are sitting on the sidelines.

This is not to say that if a team is perfectly health throughout the entire competitive season that the team will have guaranteed success, but it is close to a guarantee that if a team is missing various players or certain key players that winning is going to be more challenging.

As a coach you have to have an understanding of the stress that you and all their other responsibilities as a student-athlete are placing on them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. You can’t put athletes through high intensity sessions day in and day out and then wonder why they are broken down and/or tired all the time.

For example, our women’s hockey team has been reporting that they are very tired and a little run down over the course of the last 7-10 days. We have had very little injuries up until this point…then within a 48 hour span we had two groin strains. Neither of these issues have kept the athletes off the ice or are major in any way, but I found it interesting that both happened at essentially the same time and when many athletes were reporting being somewhat run down.

At first I looked at the volume/intensity of their on ice sessions…very similar to what they were experiencing in the weeks prior. I then looked at the volume/intensity of the work they were putting in during their off ice sessions. Again, the loads were consistent with previous weeks and not out of the norm or over the top by any means.

It then dawned on me that we are in the middle of mid-terms. The athletes have had increased demands and pressure through studying for all of their upcoming mid-term exams or putting the finishing touches on their mid-term papers. School, nothing hockey related, is currently adding a lot more stress to their system. As coaches, we have to remember that stress is stress – the body can’t and doesn’t differentiate between stressors.

As a result, we had to make some minor changes to our off ice sessions during this time to make sure we don’t ask too much of the athletes – health was put ahead of performance. Could we have pushed through what we originally had planned? Sure. Would we have stayed health? Maybe, maybe not – we have no way of knowing. But the point is this – as hard as it is for us as strength & conditioning coaches sometimes we need to realize that during the in-season period we are essentially stress managers and as a result need to place performance on the backburner so that we can do everything in our power to help the athlete stay as healthy as we can.

Arm Care Programs

When it comes to training overhead athletes a strength coach has to take into account the demands that are placed on the athlete through their sport. With overhead athletes, overuse injuries of the shoulder can be extremely common. Because of this many exercises that may not be contraindicated for most athletes are contraindicated for the overhead athlete.

In my opinion, good arm/shoulder care is more than just swapping a barbell bench press for DB bench press and adding some rotator cuff exercises into the mix – it’s about a well thought out, holistic strength program that appreciates the unique needs of an overhead athlete.

Here are a few thoughts;

    • Don’t overlook the importance of a strong lower body to work off of.
    • Don’t overlook the importance of a strong and stable core to work off of. Anti-rotation work (Pallof Press variations) and anti-extension work (rollouts, body saw, etc) are important for long term health.
    • Deadlifting > squatting. Both movements are a great bilateral lower body movement, but the deadlift has a few things that set it apart. Lots of upper back involvement which overhead athletes need. Deadlifting helps improve grip strength (more on that in a second). Also, volleyball and baseball/softball player won’t typically have the same degree of external rotation from one shoulder to another leading to issues with placing the bar across their back. Safety bar squatting would without a doubt be the best option when it comes to squatting.

  • Grip strength is strongly correlated to shoulder health. Suitcase carries. Farmers carries. Deadlifting.
  • Free the scap. Do as much pressing where the scapula has the ability to move freely. Push ups, landmine presses, bottoms up KB presses are all great pressing movements for overhead athletes.

    • Don’t just program sets and reps. Though traditional external rotation exercises make it into the program, the rotator cuff is built for stability and reflex driven which can be trained through compression and distraction of the shoulder. One is going to push the shoulder into the socket, one is going to pull it out of the socket. Think push ups and deadlifting, crawling and carries.

  • Med ball work is often overlooked for its ability to help maintain shoulder health. For example, a simple overhead throw is great for core/upper body power, but it also teaches the rotator cuff to decelerate just as it would every time an athlete throws a baseball or hits a volleyball.
  • Train outside the sagittal plane. Though this could go for any athlete in any sport, getting outside the sagittal plane is great for long term health, sport performance and proper movement. Single leg exercises, lateral squats, slideboard work for conditioning and lateral sled work all check these boxes.